© 2024 Western New York Public Broadcasting Association

140 Lower Terrace
Buffalo, NY 14202

Mailing Address:
Horizons Plaza P.O. Box 1263
Buffalo, NY 14240-1263

Buffalo Toronto Public Media | Phone 716-845-7000
WBFO Newsroom | Phone: 716-845-7040
Your NPR Station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Holiday Movie Preview: Lightsabers, Musicals And Jackie


Among the many things to be thankful for today, let's include Hollywood, which has been working hard to distract us from real life. Movies featuring superheroes and animated animals set box office records in 2016. And still to come to a theater near you - haunted real estate, droids and lightsabers and dad jokes. NPR's movie critic Bob Mondello has our holiday preview.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Someone say droids and lightsabers? It's not time yet for "Episode VIII" with Luke and Leia. This "Star Wars" story is a standalone film, an offshoot from the main storyline. It's a tale from back when the Death Star was still in the design stage. So what would you call a non-"Star Wars" "Star Wars" movie?


RIZ AHMED: (As Bodhi Rook) Rogue - Rogue One.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) If the Empire has this kind of power, what chance do we have?

MONDELLO: Oh, a pretty good chance, I'd say. This is a prequel after all. Besides...


FELICITY JONES: (As Jyn Erso) We have hope. Rebellions are built on hope.

MONDELLO: So are movie franchise extensions. "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" will be sharing space - by which I mean sharing outer space - with other films over the holidays. One's called "The Space Between Us" and is about a 16-year-old boy who's coming to Earth for the first time.


BRITT ROBERTSON: (As Tulsa) You're from Mars.

ASA BUTTERFIELD: (As Gardner Elliot) Yeah. My mother was an astronaut. She died on Mars giving birth to me. But this is my father. You're going to help me find him.

MONDELLO: Then there's "Passengers" in which Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence are traveling to a far-away star theoretically sound asleep for 120 years.


CHRIS PRATT: (As James Preston) I think something went wrong with the hibernation pods. We woke up too soon - 90 years too soon.

JENNIFER LAWRENCE: (As Aurora Lane) This can't be happening. We have to go back to sleep.

MONDELLO: Down on Earth, people will be losing sleep too, scared out of their wits in close to a dozen horror movies, which are proving increasingly popular at holiday time. This year's include "Abattoir" about a real estate reporter investigating a literal haunted house and "SiREN" about a bachelor party at a supernatural sex club. Real-life horror is the subject of a more serious film from Denmark. It's set during World War II and called "Land Of Mine," a title that sounds a little less friendly when you realize it refers to 2 million landmines that were buried on Danish beaches by the Nazis. As the war winds down, the Danes force young prisoners of war, German boys in their early teens, to dig up and defuse the bombs with their bare hands.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Duck (ph).


MONDELLO: "Land Of Mine" is the Danish entry in Oscar's foreign language sweepstakes. Nightmares of a more bureaucratic sort plague the title character in the British drama "I, Daniel Blake." He's an old age pensioner.


DAVE JOHNS: (As Daniel) I'm (unintelligible) the age of heart attack. I have been told by my doctor that I'm not supposed to go back to work yet.

MONDELLO: Alas there's a catch.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) I'm afraid you will not continue to look for work or your benefit payments will be frozen.

JOHNS: (As Daniel) There must be some mistake. I'm just going round in circles.

MONDELLO: "I, Daniel Blake" became an award season favorite when it won the Palme d'Or at Cannes this year, but this Ken Loach film is hardly the only director-driven picture being mentioned. Martin Scorsese has a drama called "Silence" about Jesuit priests on a Christian mission in 17th century Japan. Jim Jarmusch has been getting raves with "Paterson," a quiet tale of a bus driver and a poet. And less than a year after Oscar's so white, it looks as if a lot of award season movies will center on performers of color - Denzel Washington as a difficult dad, for instance, in a film version of August Wilson's Pulitzer-winning play "Fences."


JOVAN ADEPO: (As Cory) Hey, Pop. How come you ain't never like me?

DENZEL WASHINGTON: (As Troy) Like you? What law is there say I got to like you?

ADEPO: (As Cory) None.

WASHINGTON: (As Troy) Well, all right then. Don't you eat every day?

ADEPO: (As Cory) Yes, sir.

WASHINGTON: (As Troy) You eat every day.

ADEPO: (As Cory) Yes, sir.

WASHINGTON: (As Troy) Got a roof over your head.

ADEPO: (As Cory) Yes, sir.

WASHINGTON: (As Troy) Got clothes on your back.

ADEPO: (As Cory) Yes, sir.

WASHINGTON: (As Troy) Why you think that is?

ADEPO: (As Cory) Because of you.

WASHINGTON: (As Troy, laughter) Hell, I know it's 'cause of me. But why do you think that is?

ADEPO: (As Cory) Because you like me.

WASHINGTON: (As Troy) Like you - you're about the biggest fool I ever saw.

MONDELLO: Elsewhere, Octavia Spencer, Taraji P. Henson and Janelle Monae play the mathematically gifted NASA employees who helped put John Glenn in space at a time when black women faced limited opportunities and lots of obstacles.


KEVIN COSTNER: (As Al Harrison) You're never where I need you to be. Where the hell do you go every day?

TARAJI P HENSON: (As Katherine Johnson) The colored bathroom is a mile away.

COSTNER: (As Al Harrison) We all get to the peak together or we don't get there at all.

MONDELLO: The movie "Hidden Figures" is based on real life, as are two of the season's most tragic stories. Mark Wahlberg is a policeman in "Patriot's Day" about the Boston Marathon bombing.


MARK WAHLBERG: (As Sgt. Tommy Saunders) (Unintelligible) To 94. We got multiple explosions. We need help down here.

MONDELLO: And in "Jackie," Natalie Portman plays Jacqueline Kennedy as a first lady whose steely resolve about her husband's funeral procession overcame the doubts of world leaders.


NATALIE PORTMAN: (As Jacqueline Kennedy) Inform them that I will walk with Jack tomorrow, alone if necessary. And tell General DeGaulle that if he wishes to ride in an armored car or in a tank for that matter, I won't blame him. And I'm sure the tens of millions of people watching won't either.

MONDELLO: Other biopics are more upbeat - "The Founder," for instance, about Ray Kroc, a milkshake mixer salesman, who bought a little burger business from the McDonald brothers and turned it into the world's largest fast food franchise; "Neruda" film noir about Chilean poet Pablo Neruda who loved all things noir; and "Lion," the story of a world traveling odyssey that seems almost too crazy to be true.


MONDELLO: Little Saroo is 5 years old when he sneaked onto a locked train and was swept first halfway across India and then all the way to Australia. Then, two decades later...


DEV PATEL: (As Saroo Brierly) I have to find my way back home.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character) It would take a lifetime to search all the stations in India.

MONDELLO: Enter modern technology, thank heaven. "Lion" has been a crowd pleaser on the festival circuit; so has "Toni Erdmann," one of two comedies you probably don't want to go to with your dad, or, if you're a dad, with your daughter. It's a nearly 3-hour German romp - yeah, I know it sounds unlikely, but it's funny - about a father whose fondness for practical jokes - calling himself Toni Erdmann counts as one - drives his corporate-ladder-climbing daughter nuts. A Hollywood comedy goes in the opposite direction. "Why Him?" features Bryan Cranston as a dad who's being driven nuts by his daughter's boyfriend, a zillionaire played by James Franco.


JAMES FRANCO: (As Laird Mayhew) On Christmas Day, I'm going to ask Stephie to marry me, and I'd really like your blessing.

BRYAN CRANSTON: (As Ned Fleming, laughter).

FRANCO: (As Laird Mayhew) Yeah?

CRANSTON: (As Ned Fleming) No.

FRANCO: (As Laird Mayhew) Look, just give me a couple days to win you over. By Christmas morning, you're going to be calling me son. I'm going to be calling you dad.

CRANSTON: (As Ned Fleming) Don't think that's going to happen.

FRANCO: (As Laird Mayhew) I think it's going to, Dad.

CRANSTON: (As Ned Fleming) I know it won't.

FRANCO: (As Laird Mayhew) Dad, it will.

CRANSTON: (As Ned Fleming) Stop that.

FRANCO: (As Laird Mayhew) What, Dad?

CRANSTON: (As Ned Fleming) That - that - stop that.

FRANCO: (As Laird Mayhew) Dad, what are you talking about?

MONDELLO: If you're looking for something a little more inspirational for the holidays, there's "Collateral Beauty" in which Will Smith plays a man buffeted by tragedy who finds hope in odd places.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #5: (As character) Howard doesn't write letters to people. He writes to things - time, love, death.

MICHAEL PENA: (As Simon) Kids write letters to Santa Claus. It doesn't mean they're crazy.

KATE WINSLET: (As Claire) No, this is therapeutic.

MONDELLO: The thing is he's getting replies.


WILL SMITH: (As Howard Inlet) I wrote a letter to death.

HELEN MIRREN: (As Brigitte) Nice to meet you. I'm charmed I'm sure.

MONDELLO: Also upbeat, the animated kid flick "Sing."


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #6: (As character, singing) La, la, la.

MONDELLO: "Sing" features a four-legged contest you might call "Animal Idol."


MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY: (As Buster Moon) Everyone in this city gets a shot at being a star in our singing competition.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #7: (As character) This stage is about to explode with major piggy power.

MONDELLO: And while you ship the kids off to that, you can luxuriate in what is quite possibly the most swoonable (ph) musical in many a year. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone singing and dancing...


EMMA STONE: (As Mia) It's pretty strange that we keep running into each other.

RYAN GOSLING: (As Sebastian) Maybe it means something.

STONE: (As Mia) I doubt it.

GOSLING: (As Sebastian) Yeah, I don't think so.

MONDELLO: ...In a showbiz saga called "La La Land."

STONE: (As Mia) Maybe I'm not good enough.

GOSLING: (As Sebastian) Yes, you are.

STONE: (As Mia) Maybe I'm not. It's like a pipe dream.

GOSLING: (As Sebastian) This is the dream. It's conflict and it's compromise and it's very, very exciting.

MONDELLO: It's certainly got Tinseltown excited. I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF "LA LA LAND" FILM) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bob Mondello
Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.